When Ori Parnaby first saw the job posting for the Tucson Jewish Community Center concierge position, she laughed along with her sister and said, “That’s not a real job!”
Indeed, Ori is one of only a few concierges at JCCs across the United States. “It’s revolutionary!” she exclaims. “It is utterly transforming our ability as a community to connect with people.”
Ori couldn’t be better suited to the task of welcoming newcomers to Tucson and helping them make their own connections to its thriving Jewish community. Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, she relocated to the United States as an infant, moving among Boston, Chicago, Iran, Ann Arbor and then finally Tucson as her father pursued a tenure track position as a political science professor. She attended Rincon and Universal high schools, graduating a year ahead of schedule.
After high school, she moved near family in Israel and worked as a dairymaid on Kibbutz Sarid, where she met her husband, Julian. She served in the IDF, completing basic training and ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language program, before serving in an administrative capacity. She and Julian became engaged in Israel and, after a brief stay in the UK with his parents, they repatriated to Tucson, where they married. Oriattended the University of Arizona and graduated in 1995 with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in Near Eastern Studies.
The couple decided to stay in Tucson and raise their sons, Jonah, 12, and Liam, 9. Ori became involved in Jewish Tucson initially through her son’s preschool at Congregation Anshei Israel, leading K’Ton Time, a monthly Shabbat morning service for parents of small children. She quickly became immersed, serving on the synagogue’s Family Programming Committee and Synagogue Life Council and teaching religious school. From there, she became involved with the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona through the Young Women’s Cabinet and Jewish Education Tax Credit Organization. She served as a board member and coordinator at JETCO.
In addition to her Jewish community involvement, Ori founded her own business, Organize with Ori. The personal organization business included teaching classes to Pima County Library patrons and guests of the Canyon Ranch health resort and day spa. Ready to return to work in a greater capacity, Ori couldn’t believe her good luck to interview and be selected as the first Tucson Jewish concierge.
On job hunting, Ori recalls, “I knew I wanted (the job) to be in the Jewish community. I honestly thought I would have to write myself a family programming job. This position is one of few of its type in the country.”
Beverly Sandock, strategic planning associate for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, describes how federation decided on the need for the position. In 2012 the federation’s strategic planning process surveyed various demographic groups, attempting to identify gaps in service and engagement. From those discoveries, the Jewish Community Roundtable discussion group was formed in 2013. The group meets quarterly and includes rabbis from all the area’s synagogues, other representatives and executives from the Jewish agencies.
Quickly, the roundtable supported two major priorities from the strategic plan: a one-stop web portal to the Jewish community (jewishtucson.org) and a concierge position to make the introduction or connection. “The group is so successful because it enables these dedicated professionals to address the members of the community regardless of their level of engagement,” Beverly explains. “The group wanted to disseminate information, connect to others and engage people regardless of their own diverse perspectives. The concierge position embodies that engagement.”
Ori was hired in late 2014. She says her progress has been exciting. “In this position, I’ve referred people to every synagogue, every single agency and organization in Tucson,” she says proudly. “The gift of being able to help people get connected is amazing.”
She spends most of her workday at the Tucson JCC and meeting with clients around town.
“People want to get connected, but they don’t know where to start and don’t know how to find their place in the Jewish world, particularly for those not raised religiously,” Ori observes. Her own mother was a secular Israeli Jew. “I really had to find my own way to Judaism,” she says. “I want to smooth that path for others.”
One outreach example Ori gives is of an interfaith Jewish family she encountered at the Hanukkah Mall Madness event at Park Place Mall. The family has a young, school-aged daughter, and they were surprised to see Jewish Tucson out in force during the busy holiday season. They admitted they’d fallen out of touch with the Jewish community and weren’t sure how to reengage. Ori reached out to the family with a list of all the Tucson Hanukkah events, and the family eventually attended Congregation Or Chadash’s co-chaired event, Chanukah in the Old West.
“This position is about making people feel welcomed, feel loved, feel wanted and feel appreciated,” Ori says emphatically. “There is a place for everyone in Jewish Tucson, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be religious in nature, although I feel comfortable connecting people in that way too. It can be attending an Israeli dance class, playing mah jongg, schmoozing at a community event, joining a havurah. There’s something here for everyone.”
Discovering personal opportunities for her own Jewish growth is a hidden perk of the job for Ori. “Just by learning all the pieces and parts to Jewish Tucson, I feel like I’ve discovered so many ways to connect!” she says.
Adding to the existing programming, Ori will run two ongoing monthly events. The first is a networking group for Jewish business people, seeking to make business connections within “the tribe.” The second is a coffee for new and existing members of the Jewish community to make connections, friends and schmooze.
“It is a dream job for me, to strengthen this community I love,” Ori says with a smile.